Painfully shy spinster Charlotte Wilmont has adored Sebastian Marlowe, Viscount Trent, her best friend's brother, from afar, but he can never even seem to remember her name. Charlotte learns that she's received an inheritance from a great-aunt, but it turns out to be nothing more than an old ring. However, while wearing the ring, she wishes that Sebastian would love her as much as she loves him. The next morning, through some inexplicable magic, she awakens naked and entwined in Sebastian's arms. Yet, she soon discovers that nothing in this new world is quite the same as in the real one. Sebastian, who was always known to be a sensible man, has now become a notorious devil-may-care rake, and she is now Lottie Townsend, the most infamous and sought-after courtesan in London. After a bit of an adjustment period, Charlotte becomes caught up in the glitz and glamour of Lottie's world, and most of all, she savors the passionate nights in Sebastian's arms. But the love of her life is in need of funds to keep his family afloat and marrying a wealthy merchant's daughter seems to be the only way to accomplish that. It's then that Charlotte realizes that being a mistress is far different than being a wife, but if she gives up her wish to return to the real world, will she be able to win over Sebastian's heart once more, and this time, keep him for good?
His Mistress by Morning is the first book of Elizabeth Boyle's Marlowe series and the first I've read by her. It's a melding between historical romance and fantasy romance with a somewhat Cinderella-esque storyline. Charlotte is a shy spinster who has loved her best friend's brother, Sebastian, from afar for a long time, but he never seems to even notice her. Then she inherits a ring from a great-aunt who passed away. Little does she know that it's a magic ring and when she makes a wish while wearing it that Sebastian would love her, she's transported to a parallel world where she's now Lottie, a sought-after courtesan, and Sebastian is her current lover. In this fantasy world, Charlotte learns from her alter-ego how to be more confident and basks in Sebastian's love for her. But at the same time, she's disconcerted to learn just how many people and things have changed. Eventually she's faced with a choice between staying in this fantasy world permanently or renouncing her wish and going back to the real world. But if she goes back to her old life, she'll have to figure out a way to get Sebastian to love her all over again, which could prove challenging.
Charlotte is a proper lady whose father was an aristocrat, but he died, leaving her and her mother virtually penniless. They now live with their prudish cousin, Finella. As a result of their impoverished state, Charlotte never had a come-out and is now a twenty-six-year-old, on-the-shelf spinster. She's so shy and timid, she practically blends in with the furnishings. She's been in love with her best friend, Hermione's brother, Sebastian, for a while, but she's so forgettable, he can't even seem to remember her name. When she inherits the ring and has her wish fulfilled, it's not in quite the way she would have imagined. Suddenly she's thrust into a world where everyone is different than they are in the real world, including herself. Charlotte is now Lottie, the toast of the demi-monde, and Sebastian is madly in love with her. As his mistress, she experiences certain freedoms that a proper lady wouldn't have that thrill her and help her to come out of her shell. But at the same time, while she may have Sebastian's love, she knows that polite society would never accept her as his wife, and he's in a bind, needing to marry a woman of means in order to secure his family's future. But if she returns to her old life, she may not ever have Sebastian's love again. I related to Charlotte in her shyness and enjoyed watching her come out of her shell as Lottie. Although Lottie has led a far more colorful life, I liked that Charlotte brings her own personality to this new life and is still the kind person she was in the real world. Being in the fantasy world, though, helps to boost her confidence, so that she's able to bring that to bear on her circumstances back in the real world and is no longer the shy retiring violet she once was.
Sebastian is a dichotomous character. In the real world, he's from a rather eccentric family. While the rest of his family may be a bit flighty, he's known as a very sensible gentleman who never really takes risks. He's been courting the daughter of a wealthy merchant with whom a match will bring much needed funds to his family's coffers, but his mother and Hermione don't like her and want to see him marry someone for love. In the fantasy realm, Sebastian is still courting Miss Burke for the same reasons, but he's much more of a devil-may-care rake who's known for his gambling and carousing. He's also Lottie's latest lover and is madly in love with her, but he may not be able to keep her because he doesn't have the funds to offer the gifts and cash that most courtesans would expect. However, the "new" Lottie is much more open to his overtures and seems to love him back to the point that he's almost ready to marry her, society's opinions be damned. Ultimately the two sides of Sebastian must come together in a more balanced whole, and in doing so, he finds love with the real Charlotte. I liked Sebastian a lot and think that he was a great guy, but because of the whole fantasy aspect of the story, we don't get his POV until the last hundred pages or so of the book. That means that readers mainly get to know him through Charlotte/Lottie's eyes. I liked what I saw of both sides of Sebastian, but I did kind of miss having more insights into his perspective.
Overall, I thought His Mistress by Morning was a fun, enjoyable read. I waffled a little on how to rate it, though. There's nothing of major significance that I found wrong with the story per se, and I really liked the characters. Normally I'm all in for fairy tale type reads like this and with Charlotte getting Quince, who is a fairy godmother sort of character, to guide her as a result of her wish, it definitely falls into that category. I enjoy both historical and fantasy romances, but the split between the story being half real world and half fantasy world was a little strange for me. I think I simply prefer for a story to be firmly rooted in one or the other. Also, it's because of the split that we don't get Sebastian's POV for most of the story. I understand why it needed to be that way, given that it was Charlotte's wish playing out, but I would have liked to have gotten to know him a little more deeply than I did. Otherwise, it's a well-written (except for one tiny beef I had about how the author formats stammering in dialogue) and cleverly plotted story. A part of me wanted to give it a slightly higher rating, but I decided that it was a strong four-star book. It kept me entertained and was a good introduction to Ms. Boyle's work that left me looking forward to the next one of the series, Tempted by the Night, which is Sebastian's sister, Hermione, and his friend/rival, Lord Rockhurst's story. I really liked these two characters, so I think theirs has the potential to be an equally good if not even better read.
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